Hearts v Rangers: Actions in Edinburgh are speaking louder than words in Glasgow

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It could be the name of a ship: Heart of Midlothian, but this grand-sounding title, which was taken from the name of a 19th century jail and inspired by the eloquent writing of Sir Walter Scott, is the proper name of the Edinburgh football club more commonly known as Hearts - and it's down at Tynecastle they play. Soon they will be welcoming, if that's the right word, Glasgow's finest: Rangers.

In some quarters, Hearts fans are known by a more controversial term: the cousins of William. This is a reference to the Edinburgh club having a fanbase similar in background to Rangers. These days, Hearts supporters are less than impressed with such a label and the sons and cousins of William have become estranged. The era where both sets of fans joined together to give vent to rousing renditions of The Sash has gone, probably forever, but who can forget the comment of the late Hearts supremo, Wallace Mercer, after a particularly feverish contest between the clubs. Talking about the incredible atmosphere generated by both sets of fans, he observed: "Well, they sing the same songs".

Since then, both clubs have flirted with finality, and while they have managed to keep breathing after traumatic near-death experiences, the fraternal relationship that once existed between the supporters has withered and died. Scottish football's predominant characteristic in the modern era is embittered hatred, and regrettably, it has even infected this old intercity rivalry.

Rangers fans fondly remember legends like Bill Struth, Willie Woodburn, John Greig and Sandy Jardine - all towering figures in the 142 year-old Rangers story - and yet Hearts was their first love. It's sad that a healthy rivalry between the clubs has descended into an unseemly and undignified enmity.

One chapter in the history of Hearts stands above fundamentalist differences, though, and commands a respect far greater than that which is lauded on talented footballers. Hearts lost most of its players when they volunteered to join the war effort in 1914/15, and from leading the league for almost the entire season, the club was caught and overtaken by Celtic on the last lap, however, it is the glorious victory in which the departed Hearts players participated that is remembered more than a football season that promised so much and delivered so little.

To acknowledge this landmark moment in Hearts' history, the team is honouring the heroes of a hundred years ago by wearing a sponsor-free commemorative shirt in this anniversary season, and it is appropriate that it does so. Those Hearts players who abandoned their club to fight deadlier battles for their country fully deserve to live on in the memory.

The passage of time has gradually changed the country's football landscape, and at Rangers, where assertions about being 'the people' have frequently and unashamedly been made over many years, the club is now effectively in the control of one man. Over at Hearts, though, the people are taking over. Actions in Edinburgh are speaking louder than words in Glasgow.

To its credit, Hearts has become the first club in Scotland to guarantee its employees a Living Wage. By way of contrast, Mike Ashley, who is widely believed to be in charge of the Ibrox club, owns a multi-million pound company that is well known for using zero-hours contracts. No matter what Rangers does, it has an unhappy knack of always looking like the pantomime villain - and not always undeservedly.

While Rangers has amassed a record number of trophies throughout its history, Hearts has never really fulfilled its potential or come close to matching its Glasgow rival, and unlike a number of Scottish clubs, it has struggled to shine in a European context.

The Edinburgh outfit has enjoyed several strong eras throughout its history, but European distinction has eluded it. A solitary victory over Bayern Munich stands out in its European record but the tie was still lost on aggregate. If we go back a bit further, though, to the year that rivals, Hibs, last won the Scottish Cup, we find something arguably more notable than European success.

It is well known that Renton from Scotland became unofficial World Champions in 1888 when it defeated West Bromwich Albion from south of the border, but there was more than one contest billed so grandly. In 1895, Hearts and Sunderland - each league champions in their own country - locked horns in a world championship contest and the English side triumphed by five goals to three. Seven years later, in 1902, Hearts found itself involved in another world championship event, this time over two legs, and after drawing 0-0 in London, Hearts defeated Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 to become champions of the world.

Hearts fans might have been expected to remind neighbours, Hibs, about such a lofty achievement, but if they ever did, Hibs fans had a good comeback. Fifteen years earlier, on 13th August 1887, Hibs defeated Preston North End 2-1 in an 'Association Football Championship of the World decider'. In Edinburgh, in this era, being champions of the world was not a unique achievement.

It's worth noting that exactly one week after Hibs' 1887 triumph, runners-up, Preston, became the first team to visit Ibrox, and they thrashed Rangers 8-1 in a match that was brought to a halt with twenty minutes remaining due to a pitch invasion. This was the second time in a year that Preston had fired eight past Rangers.

Hearts may have been a disappointment in European competition but like Renton and Hibs, the club can at least boast of having once been the best in the world, even if some try to tarnish the achievement by hanging an 'unofficial' tag on it.

Regrettably, prestigious titles are the stuff of fantasy for Rangers and Hearts presently. The Glasgow giants were widely expected to coast the lower divisions, and while the third and fourth tiers were the stroll that most expected, a rejuvenated Hearts team is providing Rangers with a tougher test in the second division than was perhaps anticipated. With only one automatic promotion place up for grabs, there is little margin for error.

Unlike Rangers, which has a mountain to climb if it wants to have a future to match its glorious history, Hearts finds itself in a position where its future is potentially quite promising. As it moves towards fan ownership, Hearts will endeavour to become a more substantial entity by retaining its existing support and attracting new blood from within its thriving capital city base, and with each fan being more than just a loyal customer. For Hearts fans, this is a time for optimism.

Meanwhile, in Glasgow, the realisation that winning the division is not a foregone conclusion has certainly hit home. Three points from a visit to Tynecastle would give Rangers a timely boost, but defeat is unthinkable. Historically, Rangers might be expected to cope better with the pressure of havIng to win every game, but this Rangers team is a pale shadow of the more talented and better organised teams of yesteryear. Drawing at home to Alloa last week, having already dropped two points to the Clackmannanshire side earlier in the campaign, was both unacceptable and inexcusable.

Other than Parkhead, Tynecastle has probably been the most atmospheric away venue for Rangers over the years. The tight enclosed park is an excellent stage for teams to demonstrate their worth, and the influence of thousands of passionate fans can lift the on-field action to a higher level. Saturday's game will hopefully be a frenetic affair consistent with many of the epic matches that have taken place between the clubs in times past.

Hearts lead the division and go into the match as slight favourites, but a Rangers victory would be a confidence-sapping body-blow to the Edinburgh club. Hearts will feel that they need to win to prove that they have what it takes to go the distance while Rangers cannot afford to fall further behind the division leaders.

Both teams should be playing to win although Hearts' ambition to do so will probably be more apparent from the outset. In keenly contested games, the Ibrox side is more comfortable remaining resolute at the back and playing its way into the contest gradually.The longer the game stays scoreless, the more Rangers will become favourites.

The winner of this game will be expected to go the distance and gain the only automatic promotion place available: neither club will want to risk it in the play-offs. In the bizarre world of Scottish football, this second tier fixture is shaping up to be the match of the season. Hearts against Rangers is easily the tastiest confrontation in the entire 2014/15 Scottish league calendar.

The only story of note so far in the top tier was the predictable Remembrance Sunday shame of the Celtic support disrupting a minute's silence at Aberdeen. It seems that the more things change in Scottish football, the more they stay the same.

Ordinary punters need reasons to be cheerful again and Rangers and Hearts will hopefully put on the kind of show that Scottish football used to take for granted. The top division of the SPFL is flogging a dead horse and everyone knows it. A robust and compelling spectacle at Tynecastle will lift the spirits, warm the cockles and inject some life into Scotland's flagging domestic game.

Let Hearts and Rangers provide what has been missing for far too long in the national sport; football with edge, football that matters and football that provides value for money.

Go to it, lads.

 

Please feel free to comment below or on the forum thread for Hildy's match preview here - http://www.gersnetonline.co.uk/vb/showthread.php?66988-Preview-Hearts-v-Rangers